FOR Ruby Alford, 18, a graduate of Leibler Yavneh College, arriving in Israel on January 13 signalled the fulfilment of her plans to study at Midreshet Lindenbaum in Jerusalem for the year – a goal upended by the coronavirus pandemic.
As the pandemic spiralled, with social distancing, and closed shuks, restaurants and public transport, she went to stay with her great-uncle and aunt at Moshav Manof in Israel’s north, still hoping to return to Jerusalem for Pesach.
But those plans evaporated too, and after her family in Australia heard through the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) of a special El Al flight into Perth, she was among dozens of Australians who got a seat on it.
As the first direct flight from Israel to Australia leaves Perth,we are proud to have brought home over 100 Aus. citizens and to return to Israel over 250 Israelis. A major operation of Israel's Foreign Ministry and El Al with amazing cooperation from all Australian authorities pic.twitter.com/QNm4iNXEJI
— Mark Sofer (@MarkSofer) March 24, 2020
Alford told The AJN, “I’m feeling pretty disappointed about having to cut my plans short … Most programs have been suspended which is extremely unfortunate but I’m hoping to go back to Israel to continue my studies as soon as everything clears up.”
Meanwhile, Israeli tourist Gal Kalif has had a nerve-racking week as he watched his dream Australian travel adventure melt away.
The 22-year-old from Ramat Gan has been on his first Australian trip, buying a van he converted into a camper, travelling the east coast, taking different jobs, and planning to remain until October.
But with borders closing around the world, Kalif, now in Melbourne, saw his options narrowing dramatically. Finally, he managed to buy a ticket on a Qantas-British Airways flight back to Israel via Perth and London, which he was hoping to board today (Thursday).
Israel's national airline, El Al, has landed a passenger plane in Australia for the first time in history, bringing…
“Because of urgency, it was the only flight I was able to get in a couple of days,” he told The AJN. “I’m struggling to sell my van and even if I’m able to do so, it’ll be for a significant loss of money, which will affect my future plans. Also, when I return to Israel, it’ll be hard to find work because unemployment is getting worse and worse as the crisis grows.”
ZFA CEO Ginette Searle, who had been working closely with the Israel embassy in Australia and El Al, received final approval from El Al at 2am Monday morning to advise about the flight into Australia. “It has been a long couple of days”, she said.
More than 250 Israeli nationals were flown home on the return trip.
The Israeli embassy is liaising with El Al and Australian authorities about flying more stranded Israelis home.